LEGAL chiefs have issued a warning over the use of social media in the wake of five men from Burton jailed for a total of 23 years after an investigation into child exploitation offences.
Sarah Hammond, head of the West Midlands Crown Prosecution Service's (CPS) public protection unit, spoke to the Mail to reaffirm the need for people to be 'extra vigilant' when using sites such as Facebook and Twitter after the gang were found guilty of sexually abusing and blackmailing a 14-year-old girl.
It emerged during detailed investigations by Staffordshire Police that the gang shared information about the girl online before using social media to contact her, which later led to a period of prolonged sexual abuse.
Miss Hammond said: "These five men are sexual predators who targeted a young vulnerable girl in order to satisfy their own sexual desires.
"They exploited the victim and used her for sexual activity whenever they wanted to.
"The inference is that they shared information about the victim between them and then proceeded to use social media sites or mobile phones to make contact with her, groom her, and then sexually abuse her.
"Throughout this prosecution, they have all either denied having any form of sexual contact with her or that they were unaware of her true age.
"These were all lies which they had created in order to hide their crimes.
"We hope that this case alerts users to the possible dangers of using social media sites. Be careful to who you provide your personal details to and always remain vigilant when a stranger contacts you on social media.
"Treat their approach as you would do to a stranger approaching you in public, with caution and care.
"Finally, I would like to make a direct approach to anyone who is a victim of any form of abuse to come forward and not to suffer in silence.
"The CPS has a dedicated unit which houses lawyers who are specially trained, and who have the knowledge and experience of handling such delicate and sensitive cases involving allegations of abuse."
The abuse was only highlighted after the girl contacted the police.